Global E-commerce Business 101

Global e-commerce is the trading of products through an online entity or website in markets beyond borders. As the advancement of digital tools increases internet penetration, businesses can reach more markets making international e-commerce possible for both brick and mortar and online businesses

Global e-commerce business growth projections show an upward trajectory. Even for more traditional retailers, e-commerce can test the waters to determine the viability of venturing a business into foreign markets before deciding on opening a physical location.

1. Market research

While it can be tempting for e-commerce businesses to assume expansion into culturally similar markets will be easy, the truth of the matter is that in e-business the concept of one size fits all does not exist.

However, outwardly similar or how much countries may have in common, each market is unique. The USA, Australia and the United Kingdom may share many similarities from language down to flag colors, but their consumer markets are individually unique.

Every global market deserves methodical planning and consideration. When planning to venture into an international marketplace, there are factors you must consider in determining whether it makes financial sense. The initial step is to establish whether or not your products are suitable for selling in your target overseas market.

While some may believe that having a website makes the company international by default, successful cross border e-commerce requires a lot more. Before going global, retailers should consider customizing sales, marketing, and customer service aspects of their business to cater to individual market demands.

Trading globally is far more complicated than merely converting the company books from one currency to another. Cultural and linguistic differences, legal regulations, taxes and duties payable are vital considerations for any business intending to cross borders.

Data on global trends and shifts along with political and economic stability is important in deciding which country offers you the best growth opportunity. Traditional markets may saturate, meaning they must pay closer attention to opportunities in emerging ones.

In addition to determining the current market opportunities, businesses looking to scale must project realistic market saturation, consider local pricing and payment methods as well as evaluate shipping options and landed costs.

2. Key Considerations to Successfully Going Global

• Internationalization

Translation converts one language into another, while internationalization (or localization) adapts all other aspects into better global audience consumption.  Logos, website layout, colors, ad campaigns and any other elements affecting sales require market dependant customization if products are to sell.

As part of a global business strategy in the e-commerce context, this includes ensuring that local currency payment modes and shipping options are available and that items are culturally appropriate for the target market. Time zones and formats are also sensitive and need localizing.

• Logistics

Shipping costs can quickly spiral out of control if not properly checked. Remember, not all providers’ ship internationally, and different countries have their limitations. For example, packages sent to more inaccessible or remote parts will require additional time and resources.

Shipping has cost implications that a company which is going global needs to weigh and decide on whether to absorb or pass on to the customer. An inclusive delivery price is always more visually attractive to a shopper, and it may be wise to factor delivery costs in product pricing.

Giving customers the option to choose a preferred delivery method is another way that helps with market penetration and sales. However, giving users this option can become a logistical nightmare, so it requires careful consideration.

• Pricing

Research shows that global consumers say pricing is the number one reason they shop on international sites. Any business trying to break into new markets must endeavor to make its prices as attractive as possible.

Currency conversion can make the right pricing difficult with fluctuations in exchange value further complicating matters. Using an excellent e-commerce platform like Shopify could make the difference between a well-executed comprehensive sales strategy and a complete flop.

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Most e-commerce marketers targeting foreign customers sell items at fixed prices to ensure that customers do not pay additional amounts once the item ships. All inclusive pricing is convenient and lessens the risk of a company appearing unscrupulous. 

Similarly, whether display prices should include tax must be considered. Buyers in markets like Canada and the U.S. are accustomed to sticker prices being non-inclusive and anticipate a higher checkout total.

Not so for customers in the United Kingdom, and other countries where tax is inclusive. Adding the amount later at checkout may make buyers feel cheated and cause them to abandon their carts.

• Customer Relations

Formulating country-specific policies and guidelines on how to respond to customer complaints, handling returns or exchanges, and refunds are crucial. It is imperative to plan for handling customers who are dissatisfied or unhappy with their orders.

In some countries, form part of consumer rights and are protected by law while in others, sales are considered final leaving returns, refunds or exchanges at the discretion of the seller. Others will only claim within a given window of time.

When expanding internationally, it is essential to plan on how your business will adapt to each country’s return policy or lack thereof. It is wise to remember that as you try to take your business beyond borders, being flexible and accommodative with buyers is a definite plus.

Of course, customer service is much more than just returns and exchanges. Most online buyers have grown to expect e-commerce sites to have a chatbot feature to answer product and sales related queries.

Flexible payment plans, interest-free installments, buy options, and more, also form part of e-commerce customer oriented policy and need handling with target clientele in mind. For example, most online shoppers prefer paying on delivery and expect customer care representatives to track their orders and update them every step of the way.

Final Thoughts

By familiarizing themselves and keeping up to date on global market conditions and using innovative technology like that provided by Shopify, e-commerce business owners lay a strong foundation for international growth. When brands partner with the right solution providers, they can successfully adapt to new markets.

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